One thing we can always count on even in uncertain times: Drake. The rap star returns with “Toosie Slide” this month, while Frank Ocean offers up a pair of vulnerable acoustic songs, Troye Sivan feeds his fans with “Take Yourself Home,” the 1975 partner up with Phoebe Bridgers for a tender duet and pop duo Cherryade give us something to dance to, if we’re so inclined. The Strokes, mxmtoon, Charli XCX, Dolly Parton and Lil Jon and Ludacris all have new offerings, and then there’s Fiona Apple’s blazing new album, Sam Smith and Demi Lovato’s power anthem, a touching quarantine song from Bon Iver, Rina Sawayama’s wide-ranging debut and Kid Cudi’s thoughtful return. And finally, Kali Uchis, Woodkid, Cautious Clay, Ryan Hurd and Nick Hakim share releases late in the month that match our collective mood of longing.
Here are the best songs of April 2020 so far.
“Take Yourself Home,” Troye Sivan
It’s been a couple years since Troye Sivan released the shimmering pop project that was 2018’s Bloom. “Take Yourself Home,” his first single since then, sees him working with friend and collaborator Leland on a song that is sweet and yearning, touching on the existential search for one’s place in the world—until its late-breaking switch to a house beat. And why not? Once you are ensconced in the safety of your home, Sivan seems to suggest, you might as well enjoy it.
“Toosie Slide,” Drake
You might call it selling out, or you might just call it understanding the market and cleverly crafting music meant for an already captive audience: Drake’s “Toosie Slide” is not just a new song, but a pre-engineered TikTok hit. The Canadian rapper seeded it out to influential viral stars in advance, letting them create dance videos—that vector of inevitable spread—before putting out the track itself. By the time of its debut in early April, “Toosie Slide” already had a clear path to charting success. A subtle instrumental riff underlies its trap beat, but it’s the catchy dance instructions that will likely stick: “Right foot up, left foot slide.” Simple, yet effective.
“Cayendo,” Frank Ocean
When Frank Ocean chooses to release new music, he does so on his own schedule and according to his own strategy. And it’s always a gift. “Cayendo” is one of two new acoustic songs (the other is “Dear April”) that the innovative R&B artist set loose on the world in April via streaming; the pair also came out on vinyl, with B-side remixes. “Cayendo” is a tender, introspective piece of signature Ocean music, with the added layer of Spanish lyrics. “Cayendo” means “falling”—and Ocean seems to know that while he isn’t assured a soft landing, he remains committed to the fall itself.
“Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America,” The 1975 & Phoebe Bridgers
The 1975 can sound like a lot of different things: pop, rock, experimental alt-jazz. “Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America,” from their upcoming May album Notes on a Conditional Form, strips back to the basics: just singer and frontman Matty Healy in a duet with indie folk-rocker Phoebe Bridgers. (Yes, there are some background horns to remind us it’s a 1975 song, but they are subtle.) It’s slow, sweet and healing, not asking for anything other than to sink into it and listen.
“I Love Me,” Cherryade
It can be hard to muster up a festive mood right now, but Cherryade is determined to help us get there. The indie pop duo out of the U.K. makes unabashed dance tunes—or at least, their latest project Sinking Ship is an upbeat cluster of bops, although they’ve said they’ll be returning to “dark, messed up” material soon enough. “I Love Me” is bouncy and bright, with a hand-clap beat and cheeky tone. If you need a change of pace from this spring’s challenges, Cherryade has you covered.
“Life goes so fast, so go live with good intentions,” sings mxmtoon on “Lessons,” the new single off of the 19-year-old indie-pop singer’s April 22 album Dawn. The lyrics might sound didactic in other hands, but they’re delivered with the tenderness and feather-lightness of a young person discovering these things for the first time—and meaning them. Mxmtoon, real name Maia, brings a hushed delicacy to her compositions, a holdover of her roots in violin and ukulele. The result is a sound that’s clear-eyed and calming.
“Forever,” Charli XCX
Pop’s resident do-it-yourself star Charli XCX promised an album made in isolation, and “Forever” is the first hint at what’s to come. In typical Charli style, it’s rife with choppy, futuristic echoes and cuts, an abrasive opening blossoming into the sweet melody of a love song—but never letting go of its garage-music edges. “I love you forever, even when we’re not together” is hardly a new sentiment in pop, but given the quarantine context of the song’s release, there’s extra meaning in the words. Out just three days after the British artist announced her project, it bodes well for a new wave of creative output for someone who has always thrived when faced with challenges to work around.
“Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus,” The Strokes
Rock ‘n’ roll: it’s been a minute. “Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus” feels like a song from a different time (the early 2000s, to be exact), when The Strokes were New York City’s leather-clad downtown favorites, rock shows and after parties lasted until dawn and people shook hands and kissed and just generally hung out with abandon in close quarters. The opening line—”One shot is never enough”—still rings true enough, though. Singer Julian Casablancas sounds appropriately jaded here as he reminisces about ’80s music and wanting new friends on the third new song off of the band’s comeback album, The New Abnormal, released April 10. A hit of nostalgia might be what we need as we stew in a paused present.
“I’m Gone,” Dolly Parton
This isn’t technically new—”I’m Gone” was on Parton’s 2002 album Halos & Horns—but it’s only now that the country icon has decided to release six of her classic albums to streaming services, so it might be new to those who haven’t been keeping up with Dolly in recent decades. Parton has been doing her part to keep people’s spirits up of late, reading bedtime stories, sharing a personal poem and donating to hospital research for COVID-19. But music like “I’m Gone,” with its kicky twang and her high spirits, might be the best gift yet.
“SexBeat,” Usher, Lil Jon and Ludacris
Remember “Yeah!” from 2004? What a time. If you liked that song—or have fond memories of steamy moments it soundtracked—today is your lucky day, because the same trio of Usher, Lil Jon and Ludacris have teamed up for “SexBeat.” The first 40 seconds are a lovely instrumental intro that may have you thinking the R&B and rap legends have decided to try out a new genre entirely. But don’t worry; there’s plenty of grinding music in store, with each of the artists giving us a reminder of his signature style. The name of the songs says it all, really. Couples in quarantine together, this one’s for you.
“Under the Table,” Fiona Apple
“Kick me under the table all that you want, I won’t shut up,” Fiona Apple sings on this track. It’s a powerful statement in any context, but delivered on her new album Fetch the Bolt Cutters, it’s part of a manifesto of resilience, ripe with subtext and unfaltering confidence. The song is bold and upbeat in orchestration, but it’s also a plea to be understood, finally. Apple’s attitude—a seething fury—is distributed with dexterous, calibrated power across the whole album. Just hear her say “Ladies, ladies, ladies,” dripping with disdain, at the top of the song of that same title, or listen to her story of self-consciousness on “Shameika” (“I wasn’t afraid of the bullies, and that made the bullies worse,” she deadpans). On “Under the Table,” it’s perhaps spelled out most clearly: “But don’t you, don’t you, don’t you shush me!” Apple has had her share of dealing with those who would mute her. She’s certainly not getting shushed anymore.
“I’m Ready,” Sam Smith feat. Demi Lovato
There are no Olympics this summer, but if there were, Sam Smith and Demi Lovato would be the obvious choice to soundtrack the summer games with “I’m Ready,” their blazing new power anthem duet. The third single off of Smith’s now-postponed and renamed third album (previously, it was To Die For), there’s nothing restrained about this emotional showcase for the two vocalists. There’s an uplifting gospel chorus and a juicy bass section, ticking off all boxes of a summer pop mash-up. But Smith and Lovato are on their game here, joyously bringing it home.
“PDLIF,” Bon Iver
Quarantine tunes are a genre unto themselves already; there’s Alec Benjamin’s “Six Feet Apart,” Leon Bridges and John Mayer’s “Inside Friend,” Charli XCX’s whole new made-in-isolation project. “PDLIF (Please Don’t Live In Fear)” lives in this same strange new world of melancholy music meant to soothe and connect. But in typical Bon Iver fashion, it suggests a life beyond its stated scope, a world of jazzy tenderness and hope. Made in isolation, it still suggests the fullness of human collaboration. As a bonus for listeners’ appreciation, 100% of the proceeds of the song are being contributed to Direct Relief to support the healthcare workers on the pandemic’s frontlines.
“XS,” Rina Sawayama
Like all of today’s most effective pop artists, Rina Sawayama can do it all: attitude, performance, pop, rock, hip-hop. Born in Japan, raised in London and utterly committed to a sound that playfully draws on myriad influences, Sawayama’s debut album SAWAYAMA is a wild ride through glossy pop (like on the glittering, Britney-in-2020 playfulness of “XS”), punk edginess (“STFU!”) and lite-trap balladry (“Bad Friend”). You never really know what she’s going to throw at you next, but it’s all delivered with such confidence that you have no choice but to respect the range. “XS” is a cheeky indictment of consumerism, but played with such fun—especially in the video—that instead of coming across as pedantic, it reads as fabulous.
“Leader of the Delinquents,” Kid Cudi
Kid Cudi last put out a solo project four years ago; “Leader of the Delinquents” serves as a re-introduction to a generation’s precociously introspective voice. (“Hello friends, Cudder again,” he opens. “Gotta smack ’em with some sh-t before the world ends.”) Scott Mescudi is going through it just like the rest of us, clearly; he raps about wearing the “same old denims” for days, staying at home to make “jams,” and being hopelessly trapped in his mind. “Fame and loneliness, the recipe for disaster / I can’t handle this sh-t, I’ma get plastered,” he raps over an old-school beat and grounding hums. He has always been at his most effective when he is most candid; the forced self-reflection of our current era ends up being a ripe playground for his work.
“Cheesin’,” Cautious Clay, Still Woozy, Sophie Meiers, Remi Wolf, Claud, Melanie Faye and HXNS
If the list of artists on “Cheesin'” seems excessive, don’t worry: the seven rising artists featured in this easygoing track are collaborators by nature, their sounds melding and flowing naturally over the jazzy, warm tune. Led by Cautious Clay, it’s a song made “almost entirely remotely” because of the current pandemic, according to Clay; they’ll be donating the proceeds to the MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund. At just a little over two minutes, it’s more of a taste than a meal, but it certainly whets the appetite to see what else this talented group might be able to come up with together.
If Woodkid’s “Goliath” feels texturally familiar, think back to 2013, when “Run Boy Run” helped the French DJ and producer stake out two Grammy nominations for his first album The Golden Age. Echoing, tense and emotional, “Goliath” is a song on an epic scale, with crackling percussion and heartbeat bass underlying his reaching vocals. Since his early success, Woodkid has tried out different creative avenues—soundtrack composition, collaborations with the fashion and dance worlds. Here, he sinks back into the distinctive sonic landscape he started crafting at the outset. Making the new album that features “Goliath” involved accepting his own “fragility” and attempting to “reach light, as an intimate remedy, somehow. Here is me, probably not as strong as I pretended to be,” he shared in a statement. “Goliath” itself is a reference to the storied underdog attempting to vanquish the all-powerful; the music’s compulsion is to buoy us to victory against the odds.
“I want war (BUT I NEED PEACE),” Kali Uchis
Colombian-American singer Kali Uchis’ slim new EP, the four-track To Feel Alive, sounds like a warm bath. “I want war (BUT I NEED PEACE)” is gloriously silky, the perfect soundtrack for submerging oneself in bubbles. Produced this spring, the EP is just a taste of what’s to come for the artist this year following her 2018 album, presciently called Isolation, and the equally appropriate 2019 bilingual single “Solita.” Over a gentle R&B melody, Uchis sinks into self-acceptance: “It’s time to stop blocking these blessings/ See, I just wanna grow into my greatness.”
“Every Other Memory,” Ryan Hurd
There’s a gracious simplicity about country singer-songwriter Ryan Hurd’s “Every Other Memory;” it’s a sweet, lilting song about looking back, which many of us have been doing quite a bit of lately. These days, Hurd is staying home with fellow country star and wife Maren Morris (her backing vocals here are a subtle echo) and their newborn son. But the tender twang of “Every Other Memory” conjures a life of lazy summer days, outdoor concerts and starry nights. It’s a heady hit of mid-tempo nostalgia for the little moments that we would normally take for granted. “I can still feel your hands all over me” has a new meaning now.
“Crumpy,” Nick Hakim
Bluesy and intimate, “Crumpy” is a slowed-down, blurred-edges track from the Brooklyn-based musician and singer Nick Hakim. Hakim sounds of another era; on “Crumpy,” there’s the sense that you might want tune the radio dial more precisely, or take a second look at the needle on the record player. But no matter. That’s part of the spirit of the music, which oozes with surrender and desire for days gone by. “This town is really starting to grow on me,” he muses. “My face has become one with the concrete.” Hakim’s new album, Will This Make Me Good, is out May 15; it promises more helpings of warmth and bittersweetness just like this.